Council Preview: Redistricting, Recycling

Also: Ann Arbor city admin finalists to be selected today

On the day after Independence Day, the Ann Arbor city council’s agenda for its meeting – shifted from Monday to Tuesday due to the holiday – is comparatively light. But it features a few items that could prolong the meeting, which starts at its usual time in its usual place, broadcast on its usual channel: 7 p.m. in city council chambers at the municipal center, located at 301 E. Huron St., and aired on Channel 16.

One of those items features a proposal to redraw the boundaries for the city’s five wards. The resolution before the council would change the boundaries during the time between the Ann Arbor city council primary election in August and the general election in November. While the changes to the boundaries are relatively minor and are not the subject of great dispute, the proposed timing of the changes is controversial enough that several redistricting experts may appear at the council’s meeting to weigh in on the topic during public commentary.

And the council reportedly may decide to convene a closed session on the subject, citing attorney client privilege. If the council were to convene such a closed session, it would be the first such session convened since being sued by The Chronicle over a similar session in early September 2010. After publishing a July 2 column – “Ann Arbor Ward Shifts Should Wait” – The Chronicle has established that city staff were aware of the issue with sufficient time for the city council to take action. However, that did not result in resolving the redistricting issue before the primary election candidate filing deadline.

A second agenda item that may generate some discussion among councilmembers is a resolution that would increase voluntarily the payment the city makes to Recycle Ann Arbor for curbside collection of the city’s single-stream recycling carts – from $3.25 to $3.55 per month per cart. The city council had voted on March 15, 2010 to adopt the single-stream recycling program, which began exactly one year ago, on July 5, 2010.

The rationale for the change is that RAA is receiving less revenue than anticipated under the adopted contract. In the first year of the contract, RAA received less money from its cart-emptying service, because there are fewer carts deployed in the city than projected. And although the tonnage of recyclable material collected has increased, it has not increased by as much as projected, so RAA is receiving less revenue for tonnage than expected.

Not on the agenda – and not expected to be announced at tonight’s meeting – are names of the finalist candidates for the city administrator job. However, the council’s search committee is scheduled to meet in a closed session on Tuesday afternoon (July 5) to winnow down the applicant pool to a handful. Robyn Wilkerson, head of human resources for the city, indicated in an email to The Chronicle that she did not expect that names of finalists would be released until Thursday or Friday.

For Chronicle readers who want immediate reports on the votes taken by city council, check out The Chronicle’s Civic News Tickers – brief reports on actions taken by the council that will be filed during tonight’s meeting.

Ward Boundary Changes

Why is the city contemplating a change to its ward boundaries?

By the numbers, if the 2010 census population were distributed perfectly evenly across the city’s five wards (pie-shaped, per the city’s charter), they would each have a population of 22,787 – the ideal number in redistricting terms. Without any redistricting, the imbalance among wards, due to relative population growth in Ward 1 since 2000, breaks down as follows: Ward 1 [24,616 population, +1,829 whole number deviation from ideal (+8.03%)]; Ward 2 [22,419, -368 (-1.61%)]; Ward 3 [22,206, -581 (-2.55%)]; Ward 4 [22,585, -202 (-0.89%)]; Ward 5 [22,108, -679 (-2.98%)].

In 2000 the variance from the ideal for each ward ranged between +1.5% and -1.5%.

The city’s proposed redistricting plan would yield the following breakdown: Ward 1 [22,795, +8 (+0.04%)]; Ward 2 [22,739, -48, (-0.21%)]; Ward 3 [22,919, +132 (+0.58%)]; Ward 4 [22,760, -27 (-0.12%)]; Ward 5 [22,721, -66, (-0.29%)].

To restore population balance in the wards, the redistricting proposal focuses on shifting ward boundaries where the five wedges of the ward “pie” meet, in the center of the city near the downtown. [.pdf of City of Ann Arbor proposed ward boundary changes]

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) has proposed a slightly different tweak for a portion of the interface between Ward 1 and Ward 5. [.pdf of Briere's proposed ward boundary changes].

What’s controversial is not where the lines are being drawn but when they’re proposed to be enacted. It’s controversial enough that several redistricting experts are expected to attend the council meeting and weigh in during public commentary. Among them: Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum, a representative from the Washtenaw branch of the lawyer’s committee of the American Civil Liberties Union (likely John Shea), and a local attorney who has extensive experience in past city of Ann Arbor ward redistricting, Tom Wieder.

A July 2 column published by The Chronicle argued against making the change between the primary and the general election: “Column: Ann Arbor Ward Shifts Should Wait.” The column makes the point that there was sufficient time between the release of the census data and the primary election candidate filing deadline to enact the ward boundary changes before that filing deadline – if the city had been aware of the issue in time.

Specifically, the census data were released on March 21, 2011, but the candidate filing deadline for the city council primary election was not until May 10. If acted upon in a timely fashion, the council could have given the boundary changes their two approvals at two separate meetings – as required for all ordinance changes. (The ward boundaries are expressed in a city ordinance.) The council had three regular meetings scheduled during that time period, and could, if necessary, have convened a special meeting for the first reading of the ordinance change.

Since that column was published, The Chronicle has established that the city was aware of the issue with sufficient time for the city council to take action. However, that did not result in resolving the redistricting issue before the primary election candidate filing deadline. An email from a city GIS coordinator to city clerk Jackie Beaudry and assistant city attorney Abigail Elias indicates that city staff were actively addressing the redistricting issue at least as early as April 12. [.pdf of email]. That left regularly scheduled meetings on April 19 and May 2 for the council to approve the boundary changes before the May 10 candidate filing deadline for the primary election, plus the option of scheduling a special meeting.

But the city council was reportedly not apprised of the redistricting question until its working session on June 13. As of Sunday evening, July 3, assistant attorney Abigail Elias was still working on a memo to the city council outlining her position that the boundary changes should be enacted after the primary but before the general election.

It’s not clear that her memo could legally form the basis of an attorney-client privileged closed session on the topic (which is reportedly planned for the council’s meeting) because Elias has already discussed with Wieder her legal position, together with the case law and the arguments she believes supports her position on the timing of the boundary change. (Wieder is not a member of the council or the city staff, and is thus not a client.)

Recycling Cart Contract Change

A proposal before the city council would increase voluntarily the payment the city makes to Recycle Ann Arbor for curbside collection of the city’s single-stream recycling carts – from $3.25 to $3.55 per month per cart. The city council had voted on March 15, 2010 to adopt the contract for the single-stream recycling program, which began exactly one year ago, on July 5, 2010.

At that time, the city approved a contract with RAA that called for a payment of $3.25 per month per cart that RAA empties, plus a per ton payment of between $18.74 and $30.00. The amount of revenue RAA has received last year through these two kinds of revenue has been less than projected.

Specifically, the tonnage payments received by RAA for fiscal year 2011 (which ended June 30) for recyclable material were projected to be $406,332, but in fact only generated $187,560 for RAA – only 46% of what was expected. The shortfall was $218,772.

Also, the city expected to distribute 32,779 carts, but it turned out that 29,734 carts were deployed, or 9.3% fewer than planned. A staff memo accompanying the resolution explained the reduced number this way: “… many of the smaller multi-family residential units that were previously using the 11-gallon recycling ‘totes’ are able to share recycle carts, resulting in a smaller number of deployed carts.” In terms of revenue, the reduced number of carts meant that RAA received only $1,159,626 compared to the projected $1,278,381, resulting in a shortfall of $118,755.

Summing the shortfalls in the two kinds of revenue ($118,755 + $218,772), RAA received $337,527 less than it expected for FY 2011. The proposed increase in the monthly per cart service fee – for all five years of the five-year contract – works out to nearly cover the annual shortfall that was due only to the decreased number of carts: $107,042 versus $118,755.

The overly-optimistic projections were made by the city’s recycling consultant Resource Recycling Systems and RecycleBank, a company that administers a coupon-based incentive program to encourage residents to recycle. When the council approved the single-stream recycling contract with RAA last year, it also struck a 10-year deal with RecycleBank, at roughly $200,000 per year, to administer their coupon-based incentive program to help boost recycling rates in conjunction with the single-stream rollout.

At the time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) questioned the length of the RecycleBank contract, and established in the course of deliberations that the city’s opt-out clause would be less costly than the cost of the contract. He was concerned that the city had options in the event that RecycleBank’s incentives did not boost recycling tonnage to the levels that were forecast. ["Council Banks on Single-Stream Recycling"] From Chronicle coverage of that meeting:

Kunselman reflected on the fact that the roughly $200,000 per year over the life of the 10-year contract represented $2 million. He established that the escape clause for not funding the program was slightly less than $200,000 a year – to cover the under-appreciated capital investment in the trucks. In light of that, Kunselman wondered why it was necessary to have a 10-year contract. Getzloff indicated that there were a variety of term lengths for RecycleBank contracts and that the best price came with the longest one – a 10-year contract.

Kunselman returned to the topic of Ann Arbor’s already high 80-90% participation rate. Based on the chart that had been handed out to councilmembers, Kunselman wanted to know how much of the doubling of recycled tonnage could be attributed just to the implementation of the single-stream system independently of the incentive program.

Frey went through a chart that showed how estimates of the current level of 5,084 tons – for single households in Ann Arbor – would rise to 10,708 tons in the second year of the program. Of those 5,624 extra tons, fully 4,201 were attributable to the incentive program.

Kunselman also questioned whether the city would in effect be paying twice for the educational efforts of both Recycle Ann Arbor and of RecycleBank. McMurtrie replied by saying that “We’re all in this together.” RecycleBank, McMurtrie indicated, is simply a new layer.

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  1. By Stew Nelson
    July 5, 2011 at 9:53 am | permalink

    Why don’t they just wait until the next census? Maybe it will equalize itself out?

    In our political system why does it matter if one Ward has more residents than another? Seems like a waste of time and money to me.

  2. By Ruth Kraut
    July 5, 2011 at 10:07 am | permalink

    I’m curious if any Chronicle readers have regularly been using the RecycleBank coupons, and if so what do they think about them? I have looked at the web site a few times but it seems it will be several more months until I qualify for any substantive prizes. It hasn’t influenced my recycling habits at all. On the other hand, my recycling volume has increased a lot because of the single-stream and the fact that more materials are being collected.

  3. July 5, 2011 at 10:35 am | permalink

    Jeez Dave. Worrying about ward boundaries in a city with 100% Democratic Party representation? Who cares? Just give that small cabal of Dem politicos than run the party and let them do it. That’s how it’ll all turn out anyhow. ng.

  4. By Tom Whitaker
    July 5, 2011 at 10:55 am | permalink

    This previous column and the numerous comments below illustrate the skepticism of the single stream data presented to Council when they first implemented single stream and the rewards program: [link]

    Since the per ton payment to RAA is variable, it’s impossible to tell from the revenue information given in today’s article how the total tonnage of potential recyclables collected after the program was implemented compares to the tonnage collected before the program. And more importantly, how much of this tonnage collected was actually recycled–that is, purchased or hauled away at no cost to be made into a new product? How much of it, after going through our expensive sorting facility, was actually landfilled (either directly or through a buyer who had to buy it, but had no place to re-sell it)? In other words, how much tonnage collected was actually useful recyclable material? How do these numbers compare, before and after the program? It sounds like the City deployed fewer carts and collected less tonnage than projected, but again, there are data points missing, as there were when the program was first presented to Council, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions.

    It’ll be interesting to see follow-up data on the privatization of the compost facility, too.

    On a separate note, I’ve been collecting my points since this program started and would love to donate them toward hiring more police and firefighters rather than getting a free magazine subscription or something. Is that something the City could set up?

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 5, 2011 at 11:23 am | permalink

    This is what you get with no bid contracts given to political friends, with little to no oversight, from turning a blind eye to a City Council mostly going along for the ride.

  6. By DrData
    July 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm | permalink

    Re redistricting. Baker vs Carr (1965 Supreme Court Case) mandated population-based redistricting. Before that case, states had congressional districts that varied greatly in population size – urban districts under-represented and rural districts that remained the same size even though the population had migrated away.

    I do not know if this ruling applies to wards, but I would expect it would. And, while Ann Arbor may be a mostly Democratic town, our interests vary. It would seem to me that the student neighborhoods are easy to use as pawns to move around depending on which ward needs a few thousand more folks – particularly census tracts that are comprised of dormitories.